Putin Purges the (Non-Russian) Peoples’ Libraries and Schools

December 5, 2014

Staunton, December 5 In 1969, Bertram Wolfe published his classic study, “Krupskaya Purges the People’s Libraries” in the London-based journal Survey, an essay in which he described the way Lenin’s wife began putting a straightjacket on intellectual life in the Soviet Union.

Now, in yet another revival of the Soviet past, Vladimir Putin is purging the libraries and schools of books in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation not to promote Bolshevism but rather to push a Russian nationalist agenda that is already triggering an angry response in some of them.

In a lead article in this week’s Zvezda Povolzhya, Rashit Akhmetov, that Kazan publication’s editor, points out that the current Russian government is going about this in the way it so often does, using ostensibly neutral and objective rules to impose something that is anything but neutral and objective [no. 46 (726), 4-10 December 2014, p. 1]

A few weeks ago, he reports, Olga Artenko, the head of the Center for Ethno-Cultural Strategy of the Russian education ministry, came to Tatarstan and told officials there that they could not use any textbooks in schools that were not “licensed” by the Russian ministry or keep them in the libraries of their educational institutions.

As the ministry had given licenses to Tatar-language textbooks only for grades one through five, that means that for older students, there are now according to Moscow rules no textbooks in Tatar which can be used. If this measure goes forward, this effectively kills non-Russian language instructive beyond the fifth class.

Not only does this violate the Russian constitution and Russian laws which specify that the republics have the right to use their national languages in schools up to and including universities, but it imposes a huge cost on the republics. Millions of textbooks must be destroyed, Akhmetov says, with the loss of millions of rubles in budgetary funds as a result.

Russian officials are scheduled to come to Tatarstan in the near future to see if Artenko’s order has been carried out. Presumably they will order confiscated and destroyed all these Tatar language textbooks, an act of “barbarism” that puts Tatar language schools under “threat of complete liquidation.”

Akhmetov says he does not want to believe that what Artenko has said will in fact be implemented, but tragically, the process he points to would be consistent not only with what the Putin regime has done in occupied Crimea where Ukrainian-language texts have been confiscated and destroyed and in other non-Russian republics as well.

In the past, Moscow has been more cautious in its approach to language and other issues in Tatarstan than it has been toward other non-Russian republics given that the Kazan Tatars, the second largest nation within the borders of the Russian Federation, have been more vocal and effective in defending their rights.

Now, it appears that Moscow has decided to go on the attack there as well, a step that may please some Russian nationalists and be viewed as “reasonable” by those who defend its Russianizing and Russifying approach but that is certain to inflame national feelings first in Tatarstan and then across the non-Russian quarter of the population.